By Sunday morning, the town of Aspen is decidedly quieter. I go for a run by a creek and pass hearty young men on mountain bikes and couples walking their golden retrievers and others generally enjoying life outdoors in the clear, high-mountain air. Mornings like this in Aspen are so stupendously lovely you can forget, for a time, that Aspen is also a land of air kisses and May-December marriages and bank accounts bigger than God's. Yesterday, while waiting for Betts in the lobby of the hotel, I had overheard one woman ask another what she did in the off-season.
"First, I went to California," she said. "And then around the world."
"Sounds nice," her friend replied.
I waited to hear a tantalizing tidbit about Bangkok or Peru or the Azores, but that was it; the conversation was over.
I try to remind myself that the Aspen crowd is one small slice of the wine world. For most people, wine doesn't exist to be analyzed and evaluated, compared and described. It exists to be drunk. But I also like that wine, if you let it, can teach you about geography and culture and history and language and tradition. And, frankly, you can get all this whether you spend $10 or $100 or $1,000 a bottle. I suppose this makes wine the ultimate democracy. You can choose to vote on a winner or not, but your needs will still likely be met.
I follow Betts into the last reserve tasting of the weekend: a 25-year Bordeaux retrospective that will culminate with a taste of '82 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, which, if you can get it, goes for about $1,400 a bottle. Though I'm wined-out, I'm anxious to taste this gem, mostly because everyone else here is anxious to taste this gem, and they seem to know a lot more about wine than I do. When asked who in the audience has '82 Bordeaux in their collection, more than half the attendees raise their hands.
The tasting gets under way and it's basically a repeat of yesterday's. The wines are sexy, veggie, weedy, and romantic. I continue to take notes out of habit, not because I'd actually consider buying any of the wines. What I'm waiting for is that '82 Mouton. I need to know what an expensive, universally agreed-upon winner of a wine tastes like.
An hour later, after all the anticipation, the experts at the front of the room turn their attention to the pièce de résistance—the revered '82 Mouton-Rothschild. I pick up the glass. I swirl it. I stick my nose in it. I detect bits of cedar. And then, I taste. I wait for stars to explode behind my eyes or hidden philosophies to reveal themselves. But the wine is so jagged and tannic that all the saliva immediately disappears from my mouth and I can't think why I would ever spend $14 on a bottle, let alone $1,400. Of course, I don't confess any of this out loud.
The experts, in contrast, start gushing about the Mouton's muscularity and how it will continue to live and grow and impress for years inside the bottle. Their rapture is unanimous, if a bit mystifying. All around me, people are nodding their heads.
Then the seminar leader asks Betts to comment on the wine. He sighs, picks up his glass, and simply shakes his head.